On One Health Care "Myth"

Republicans have attacked Obama's health care plan for, amongst other things, creating "death panels." Democrats, predictably, have responded by calling this a ridiculous scare tactic, something that of course will never happen.

The problem is, however, that the fundamental concept behind this idea has merit. And unfortunately, because of Republican attacks, a good idea may not be implemented.

Here is the viewpoint on "death panels." Killing old people is a bad idea. So don't do it. Case closed.

But reality is not that simple. The plain truth is that the enormous cost associated with caring for the elderly is slowly bankrupting our nation and its health care system. The last months of a person's life incur an enormous and disproportionate amount of spending relative to his or her lifespan. And sometimes - many times - those expenses are simply not justified; unnecessary operations and surgeries simply prolong the pain and delay the inevitable. Unplugging the machine may simply be the right thing to do - both for the nation at large and the person individually.

There is most definitely a chance of abuse and terrible wrong happening with this. There usually is. This idea is not perfect; few ideas are. The point is that it should not be immediately dismissed out of hand.

Today, with the health care plan losing popularity, Democrats are quickly backtracking from end-of-life planning. They have promised to delete the text concerning "death panels."

That is unfortunate. Excessive end-of-life treatment that does not help is a major part of our skyrocketing health care bill. If we ignore the problem, as Congress seems poised to do, it will not magically get better. Sadly, ignoring the problem increasingly looks like what is going to happen.

--Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

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(Part of) The Reason Why Blacks Vote Democratic

In 1972 Richard Nixon won 18 percent of the black vote, according to New York Times exit polling.

In 2008, John McCain won 4 percent of the black vote.

The conventional explanation for this has something to do with civil rights and Democrats and the "Southern strategy" followed by Republicans. And, to a large extent, the explanation is probably right.

But part of the reason African-Americans have been trending Democratic recently has as much to do with chance as with fundamental political shifts.

Democrats have had the good fortune of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The two most influential, recognized Democrats of the past two generations are incredibly popular amongst blacks. Bill Clinton was so well-regarded by African-Americans that Toni Morrison called him "the first black president". Today Barack Obama is even more popular amongst blacks than Clinton (the fact that, unlike Clinton, he actually is "the first black president" might have something to do with this).

Republicans haven't had such luck. No Republican presidents have been relatively popular amongst blacks since Eisenhower's time. And even he lost the black vote by a 3:2 margin.

Imagine if Republicans nominated Colin Powell in 1996. He might have cracked the black vote and won 25%; that was how well Michael Steele ran in his 2006 Senate campaign. Or he might have utterly broken the alliance between blacks and Democrats and taken more than 90% of the black vote.

That would have changed politics forever. But as luck would have it, the exact opposite happened. Barack Obama, not Colin Powell, was nominated by the Democrats and elected president. Today it looks like Democrats have won the black vote for another generation.

-- Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

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How Obama Can Win Utah (Without a 20% National Victory)

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/


Democratic candidates in Utah must feel as if they're facing an impossible task. The state is often considered the most far-right Republican stronghold in the United States. Winning Utah is akin to slaying a mighty dragon with only a bow as one's chosen weapon.

Like all dragons, however, Utah has a weak spot. The year 2012 may be a ripe time for Obama to shoot an arrow through it.

The majority of Utah's voters are Mormon; the religion is a heavy influence on daily life in the state. The vast majority of Mormons are also conservative, because Mormonism is an inherently conservative beast. In every presidential election so far, Mormons have proved to be strongly Republican.

Mormons like to think of themselves as average, normal Americans. They're good people. They help with the community. They love their children and teach them traditional values. Nobody cares if they have a different religion.

Except many people do care very much indeed, especially the type of person who tends to vote Republican. Many would never vote for a Mormon.

Imagine the following scenario, below the flip.

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Self-Correction in American Elections

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

One thing I've recently observed is the degree to which America self-corrects when selecting its leaders. It's very interesting to compare successive presidents; the new president nearly always lacks the weakness the previous president had. Though of course he comes with his own flaws.

I'll start with Jimmy Carter. Carter was known for being honest and a bit naive, in stark contrast to his predecessor Richard Nixon.

Carter, however, had a negative reputation for being an obsessive micromanager. He was replaced by Ronald Reagan - who was famous for leaving the details (and sometimes the whole plan itself) to his aides.

Reagan and the elder Bush were criticized as too old for the job. So along came Bill Clinton and Al Gore, the youngest presidential team in history, as the next presidential group.

Of course, Bill Clinton is remembered for his sexual indiscretion and the Monica Lewinsky affair. His replacement - George W. Bush - was widely characterized as morally upright and religious.

He was also characterized as stupid. Which is a criticism nobody would level at his successor Barack Obama - one of the most intellectual persons who has ever graced the high office.

And so the cycle continues onwards.

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The Latino Vote

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

They're considered a minority in the United States, composing a rapidly growing sub-set of the population. The majority are immigrants; public sentiment, aroused by nativism, is sometimes hostile towards them. They vote heavily Democratic, but because many are immigrants they turn-out in numbers not as great as the share of the population they compose.

I'm not talking about Latinos. I'm talking about white Catholics in the early 20th century.

Today, Democrats hope that the Latino vote will be an essential part of a permanent majority, the keys to an unyielding period of Democratic dominance. Latinos were a major part of Obama's victory in states such as Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado. They've turned California blue for the foreseeable future. Red states Arizona and Texas are home to millions of Latinos, who represent a threat to the Republican character of those two states. Opportunity beckons.

Or so it seems.

In reality, however, it seems that the path of the Latino vote is the same as that of the white Catholic vote.

More below the flip.

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Paying for Health Care

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

One of the most important health care reforms would be to get rid an inefficient, outdated tax exemption that is still a fundamental part of U.S. policy.

This is how it works. If a company provides health insurance to its employees, the federal government does not tax the health benefits that are being provided. Say you have an insurance policy worth $5,000. Said company deducts a part of the employee's salary - say, $1,000 - for "health insurance." But the majority of the cost - the other $4,000 - is hidden, because the company negotiates with health providers itself. This is an enormous tax exemption, amounting to the biggest the federal government gives.

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. Who wouldn't want to encourage a companies to provide health insurance?

The problem lies in the unintended consequences of this tax exemption. An employee who gets his health insurance from a company has an incentive to get the most expensive, technologically new treatment possible - even if such treatments are not proven to be effective, as is far too often the case. After all, the company's paying for most of the cost. And who wouldn't want to get the costliest treatment possible if you're not paying for it?

Except the employee is paying for that other $4,000 - just not directly. He's paying in the form of lost wages that the company would have given him were it not for the health insurance it provides. For example, instead of paying Sam $50,000 in wages, Company A decides to offer everybody a $5,000 health insurance packet and pay Sam $45,000 (and put a $1,000 heath insurance deduction on his paycheck), due to the government tax exemption.

But Sam doesn't know how much more he could have made without the tax exemption. All he knows is that he's getting cheap health insurance, and that he'd better use it on the most expensive, new treatment possible.

In effect, Sam is spending $5,000 of his own coin in an inefficient, wasteful manner. But he doesn't know this - doesn't consider it his money - because of the way our health care system works. If said employee was given $5,000 in wages instead of a $5,000 health insurance plan that looks like it costs $1,000, he'd probably be less likely to seek that $100,000 prostate cancer detection test (which studies show doesn't work anyways). And we'd all be better off for it.

For more, see below the flip.

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Media Coverage of Israel

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

In the past few months and years, media coverage of Israel has had subtle but distinct change in tone. The mainstream media is taking a harder look at Israel's policies, and has found not everything is to its liking.

There are several reasons why coverage of Israel has previously been so positive, and why recently a slight change has occurred. In the first place, Israel is a country culturally very attuned to us. Israel is part of the West; it shares Western norms and values. Many Jews would be comfortable living in the West and do so to this very day. Some of them work in the media and are sympathetic to the struggles their peers face.

Moreover, many in the media (and the vast majority of our country) believed that Israel had been in the right before 2006. Israel had - has - a democracy and a free press and all the things we like a country to have; the Palestine cause and their Arab supporters by and large do not. Israelis such as Yitzhak Rabin were calling for peace; meanwhile, Palestinian terrorist organizations such as Hamas were sending suicide bombers to kill Israelis civilians day after day.

Then came the 9-11 attacks by Muslim terrorists. In its aftermath media coverage of Israel was probably the most positive it had ever been.

There were three events, however, which changed things. At the very least, they have damaged Israeli prestige.

Continued below the flip.

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The Modern Electoral Map

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

Before continuing on my analysis, I'd like to congratulate President Barack Obama on winning the Nobel Peace Prize today.

Now onto the analysis: Some of you may recognize this map.


For those who don't, this is Ronald Reagan's landslide election over his hapless opponent Walter Mondale.

Unfortunately, for those who look for political trends, this map hides more than it reveals. For example, Reagan wins Massachusetts, but reasonable people would agree that Massachusetts is normally a Democratic state.

Here is a more revealing map.


You probably don't recognize this map. There's a good reason for that - there's never been a presidential election with the above results.

In fact, the previous electoral college is what would have happened if Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan won an equal share of votes. The blue states are those in which Reagan won with less than 18.2%, the exact amount by which he beat Mondale.

This map bears an eerie resemblance to today's electoral maps.

More below the flip.

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Iraq: It's Not Getting Better

By Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

Since the end of July, there have been two massive bombings in Iraq. On July 31st, 29 were killed when a several bombs exploded outside Shiite mosques. On Friday, a truck bomb in another Shiite mosque detonated, killing another 37.

Regular days are also violent affairs. Take August 3rd. In the restive city of Mosul, five Iraqis were killed by separate attacks. Two bombs in Baghdad exploded, killing up to six Iraqis and wounding 26. Near Falluja, another bomb killed two and wounded seven.

In fact, according to the Associated Press, there have been 27 major bombings this year alone, the worst of which led to 82 deaths. The two months with the least number of major bombings were January and February. Since then there have been an average of four to five major bombings per month.

Politically, things look even worse. On important political issues ranging from the fate of Kurdistan to a new oil law, Iraqi politicians have failed to make progress. Worryingly, the current Shia-dominated government seems increasingly hostile to the Sunni-led Awakening movement that was a major factor in reducing insurgent violence.

Here's the point. Undoubtedly, violence is down from the days of 2006. Undoubtedly, progress has been made. But Iraq is still a very violent place; there is considerable instability in the country. Americans - and the current administration in particular - should not take Iraq for granted. That was the mistake George Bush made with Afghanistan. We are paying the price for that today.

Progress from the surge and the Awakening movement has plateaued. Maybe violence will continue to decline and the insurgency continue to weaken. That is the hope. Or maybe the opposite will happen, as violence rebounds and the insurgency recovers.

Right now nobody in America is paying attention to Iraq; everybody thinks the problem is solved when in fact it is not quite so. If things start going wrong, the media will be slow to pick up on it; it certainly took them a while with Afghanistan. So the administration has time on its side. But it should be very very careful that Iraq maintains a modicum of stability. It wouldn't to do repeat George Bush's mistake in an exciting new way.

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Fox News

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

Like many of you, I like to watch movies. Even today, they're still a lot of feel-good, old-fashioned hits that make your heart warm. Things like Slumdog Millionaire and National Treasure.

In National Treasure - the sequel, that is - there exists a scene in which the main character kidnaps the president; its necessary to "find the treasure." It's one of the scenes I remember, not because it's particularly memorable or even good, but because of what the scene expresses. The movie respects the president. He's fundamentally a decent guy or gal who's going to do the right thing in the end. For that, the president deserves our respect. And in National Treasure, he gets it.

Perhaps a lot of more sophisticated persons might view these sentiments as naive. But I'm sure many viewers of Fox News have the same, old-fashioned beliefs. With regard to George Bush in particular, I'm sure many of them believed that he was decent man trying to do the right thing for our country. Whatever his mistakes, he deserved our respect.

Which is why it so disturbs me to watch Fox News today. The channel's attitude is consistently disrespectful to our president. Fox commentators are free - are encouraged, in fact - to ridicule and malign the leader of our nation. They operate from the assumption that Barack Obama is not a decent man and that he does not want to do the right thing for the country. They seem to think that our commander-in-chief is an enemy or something, just because he happens to be a Democrat.

That's bad. It's bad for the president. It's bad for our country, because a polarized nation with a paralyzed leader is always in a state of weakness. Think about Iran today. It's even bad for Fox News and the Republicans, because when they do come up with legitimate criticism - the president's not going to listen anymore. They'll have long lost all their credibility.

Maybe I'm just an old-fashioned type of guy, but I think that our president deserves respect.

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